Justified Journal

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Category: Theology of the Cross

Thousands of denominations; only two theologies

When I was a student in college, I took a class on the Protestant Faith.  At that time (more than 20 years ago), there were over 3,000 christian denominations in the United States alone. This is overwhelming.

In truth, however, there are only two theologies in the entire world; the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.  Martin Luther outlined the differences in the 28 theses (arguments) he made at Heidelberg, known as the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  Although he was writing against Roman Catholic errors, these can also be applied to modern American church errors.  The following are the first four arguments:

  1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
  2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
  3. Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
  4. Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

For a full treatment (and an edifying, if not challenging read), please see Gerhard Forde’s, On Being a Theologian of the Cross.

Happy Reformation Day!

Jesus: peacemaker or instigator?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”  -Matthew 5:9

The above passage is taken from  the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel.  The quote is a strong contrast with the book, as a whole, because Jesus gets into so many conflicts in Matthew.  In fact, five chapters later, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

What’s going on here?  These two statements seem to be in conflict with one another.  The question you might ask (of course, not out loud in case someone should hear us), “Is Jesus a hypocrite?” Is He another Teddy Roosevelt to whom is attributed, “Talk softly and carry a big stick“?  If the peacemaker is blessed, what of Jesus?  Is He cursed?

Matthew hardly makes it easier for us.  Jesus is shown, time after time, disturbing people.  Nice people.  Business people.  Religious people.  His neighbors as He was growing up.  But why?  Was He some political provocateur?  Was He a religious fanatic?  Was He a fringe lunatic bent on undermining local economies (think of the seafood restaurants He would put out of business if He kept multiplying fish and loaves!).

Matthew 8:28-34 records Jesus casting demons out of two men.  They are sent into swine, leaping from a steep bank and heading into the sea. The locals are worried about their economy, and ask Jesus to leave.

Chapter 13:53-58 records Jesus visiting Nazareth, and “they took offense at Him” (vs. 57)

Chapters 12, 15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26 (The Plot to Kill Jesus, in my Bible), and 27 record conflicts with the religious leaders.

Why so many conflicts when Jesus is clearly here to bring peace?  Why wasn’t He a better Beatitude -bearer?  The answer can be found in two places.

First, Jesus Christ preached a righteousness that took no account of a person’s status.  He spoke of things being hidden from the wise, but revealed to children (11:25).  Even His actions, like casting out demons in men afflicted and without ability to free themselves pointed to the coming of God’s Kingdom and the power, authority and mercy of God in Christ.

Second, the people He was in conflict with were … invested.  The business people were invested in their livestock (it was their living).  The religious leaders were invested in their self-righteousness which came through the keeping of the Law and traditions.

The latter group could not even consider Jesus’ proposals because it would mean the loss of their status.  It would mean that they had become renegades.  They would lose their life.  The rich young ruler in Matthew 19 understood this well; “he went away grieved”.

The Gospel of the Kingdom is Jesus, Himself.  He is the good news that God has condescended to become a man, live the perfect life for us, die a perfect death, and suffer through persecution, hatred, and wrongful execution so that we might be given the whole Kingdom as heirs!  He has ended God’s conflict with man by receiving the judgment of God in His body.  He has justified us, sanctified us, and even calls us His brothers (and sisters)!  And, that is still not the whole of the good news.  He was resurrected.  Death does not reign over us any more.  Jesus is our peace!

But, persecution will be our present and future in this world.  Even the most “Christian” people will call those who bear the fully free Gospel of Jesus Christ heretics and false teachers.  They will war against anything that threatens their spiritual investment in themselves.

And, you and I are ‘investors’ too.  We have invested in morality, thinking it is an acceptable sacrifice before God.  We have invested in the belief that the hours of participation in the church will contribute to our goodness.  We have invested in our theology believing it is the “right belief”, and judge all others to be wrong.  We invest in our abilities, intelligence, strength, convictions,  service and our feelings.  But, these investments reject the cross.

Look through the gospels.  Who are the ones who accepted Jesus?  You will find that God’s mercy is for those who have no other choice.  They are the ‘sinners’ of the New Testament.  They have “bottomed out”.  They need an intervention.

As Kretzmann wrote of Matthew 5:3, the poor in spirit: “He is speaking of the poor and miserable “in spirit,” those that shrink and cower with fear and dread, that are tremblingly alive to the wants and needs of their soul, that feel in their own heart, so far as spiritual riches are concerned, nothing but a great void, a despair of their own abilities” (http://kretzmannproject.org/)

And, unless we become sinners too, the intervention of the cross won’t do us any good.

But, Jesus has come to end our dependence upon our investments.  He has come to kill the Old Adam and the Old Eve.  He has come to rescue you and I from all of your sins and mine.  He has come to rescue us from ourselves.

So, as Luther put it, “join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard- boiled sinners” (WPD, 106).  Come to be forgiven again.  Come to receive mercy.  Come to receive eternal love and peace.   “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Come to Jesus who has invested everything … in you.

God’s mercy, grace and peace,


Hiding our face from the cross

I try to read from the Bible every day.  Currently, I am reading Romans.  Sometimes, the letters of the New Testament contain some pretty thick theology, and I return to more narrative parts of the Bible (let’s face it, stories are an easier read).

I always like to go back to the gospel accounts.  The miracles, preaching and wisdom of Jesus engage me.  It’s all good stuff, and I feel good reading it.  But, in the back of my mind, I know there’s a crucifixion coming.  He’s going to be beaten, spat upon, rejected, crucified, and He will die.  It’s my natural inclination to want to speed through this portion of Scripture.

I don’t want to “see” a bloodied Jesus.  I don’t want to see human cruelty.  I don’t want to see torture and execution (on a cross).  I don’t want to see the humiliation of my Lord.  But, it’s there.  God had it recorded not once or twice, but four times.  Each gospel writer gives us an account of this event.  And all other events leading up to this appear to happen very quickly in comparison to the slow, arduous chapters depicting His death.  It’s as if the authors grab us from the back of the head and push our faces into Jesus’ death.  They don’t want us to miss the impact of it.

The reason I want to turn away from this “movie” of His death is because I don’t want to remember that it was my sin that caused it.  I want the Jesus who is happy with me.  I want the one who is my brother.  I want the one who feeds me my daily bread, teaches me doctrine, brings me to remember upbeat spiritual songs.  The other vision is much too depressing.

Perhaps this is why so many Christians reject the image of the crucifix.  We’re o.k. with a picture of Jesus talking with the children or breaking the loaves, but Jesus on a cross?  It’s too gruesome.  It’s … offensive.

And that’s exactly what the cross is!  This is what God wants us to look at, again and again.  It tells us that the sum of our best Christian works amount to the death of God.  We can sanitize, clean up and white wash the death of Jesus.  Or, like most in the church, we can just bypass it like a freeway driver getting a glimpse of an accident.

But, this is not the message handed down from the apostles.  Paul states, “We preach Christ and Him crucified”.  So, look again.  Look at the cross which ended our Lord’s life.  Look at the wounds that healed us.  Look at the thorn-crowned head which bore the pain of knowing all our intimate sins … intimately!

If you want to know that Jesus loves you, look up to the man on the cross between two criminals.  Look at the man who the Father was pleased to crush.  Look at the man who bore the weight of our guilt.  He is the one who takes upon Himself all of our sin, even the sin of looking away from Him!  His love for you and me empowered Him to endure rejection, beating, crucifixion and the Wrath of God so that we would … we will never have to.

He has saved us from our sins, and given us eternal life.  It’s the promise secured in His blood.

To God be the Glory both now and forever.

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